Thursday, May 25, 2006


Here are a few photos... enjoy!


Yoga police at the Taj...

Bret, in his wisdom, decided to do yoga at the Taj Mahal in Agra the other day and nearly got kicked out. He had just received that morning his first-ever Indian shave-and-a-haircut and looked to the untrained eye quite authentic in his new white kurta (a long shirt) and pants. And there he was, in full-fledged sun salutation, making himself at home with the downward dog and cobra postures. He is a tall man and when he stretches out, he grows even taller. For all his height he remains graceful and at ease in the pose, and for the ten or so of us who were relaxing around the perimeter of the Taj it was enjoyable and relaxing to watch.

Geoff, who is always game for something new, joined him and together they stretched amid the tourists and the marble mausoleum. Ten minutes had passed and a guard came over to Bret and asked, “Is that yoga you are doing?” Well, yes, it was. She told Bret to stop practicing yoga, and trouble started when Bret asked why. Another guard arrived a few minutes later with a pistol (and had a back-up man who wielded a rifle). He made it clear with his presence (but perhaps not in his words) why Bret couldn’t finish the sun salutation. What we could piece together was this: the Supreme Court of India ruled that (?) no photographs of people doing yoga could be taken at the Taj Mahal. I have to say we were surprised that this question would have become a matter for consideration by the Indian Supreme Court. The guard said that, anyone could do yoga out on the lawns, but any photos that we had of people doing yoga at the Taj Mahal would have to be deleted. The issue wasn’t the yoga itself, he said. It was the documentation of it. My feeling is that Bret wanted to continue to debate this matter, test the boundaries of performing (in its origin) a Hindu stretching exercise at a Mughal Islamic temple. Perhaps the prospect of the gun, and having to sit in his white kurta on the dirty floor in an Agra jail cell deterred him from taking the matter further.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Weathered by our senses...

Sorry we haven’t been posting for the past day or two; I have been a bit busy “on deadline” I like to call it, attempting to assemble the next article for the Daily Reflector. It will run on Saturday, so keep an eye out for it!

We are in Khajuraho in the off season. We toured the temples of the Chandela Dynasty, melting in the heat. The temples were built in the 10th through 13th centuries and there are 32 still remaining. Each temple honors a Hindu God or Goddess (Vishnu, Siva, Kali) and its exterior is inlaid with sandstone sculptures. The day grew hotter and hotter and many of us felt completely fatigued, baking in the sun, listening to our docent talk about the sculpture. One of the last temples was in honor of the god, Surya, also known as the sun god. As we headed for the temple, the sky suddenly paled and became overcast and thunder rumbled in the air. We ran toward the temple (removing our shoes) as a strong wind blew over us and the rain began to fall. So grateful for the rain, I handed my bag and shoes to Lynda and ran out into the storm, taking in the drops as they stung and slapped my face. I was soon joined by Dani and a few others. The wind was so powerful, it might have swept both Dani and me away if we hadn’t been clinging to each other.
“The rain yesterday was liberating,” Dani said afterwards. “I mean, that was on the list: get caught in a rainstorm in an exotic location. I can cross it off the list.”

For me, I felt like the entire day worked to pound out aspects of my senses in extreme ways: the sun nearly dried me out. The rain soaked me thoroughly and the wind nearly blew me away. A gathering of lime green parrots convened in a tree at dusk as we walked toward the Siva temple. Upon entering the temple, each person had to ring a bell at the threshold overhead, and we stood on the stone mound around a huge lingam (a stone cylinder) and the men began to chant and clang gongs in rhythmic pattern. It grew louder and the vibration of the chanting rang through my body and rattled my eardrums. The extremes of the day left me peaceful. I felt weather-beaten: baked by the sun, blown by the wind, doused by the rain, and moved by the sounds of people as they pray to god.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


In the news....


Sahelian: Friendship in Hindi

Opportunities for friendships exist wherever we go. Just this morning, a sign for Mehndi (a henna temporary tattoo) caught our eye as we walked down a small but busy street in Agra. Our whole group (minus Dani, who had to catch up on a few z’s) had just enjoyed breakfast at a rooftop restaurant and had taken in the view of the Taj Mahal as the sun rose (we arrived at 6:30 a.m.). All the gals had discussed getting Mendhi, and when Linda and I saw a sign “home Mendhi,” we knocked on the door and were greeted by a very kind Siddiqi family. From an expansive collection of henna booklets, Reshma and Nabiya helped us pick out a few patterns for our hands and they began the task of pasting our hands in intricate floral patterns. I know how a cake must feel when it is getting iced. We bantered about in English and some Hindi, and the brothers were both very helpful to me as I tried to grasp their language. In the midst of having our hands painted, I learned a few new words in Hindi, the most important being Saheli (friend) another was sundaree (beautiful). We took milk tea, my favorite beverage in India, aside from lime soda and lassi. Actually, I can’t make up my mind. The entire family was so cordial and friendly and within an hour our hands were covered in a stiff paste the color of dark chocolate. The red stain began to set on our skin and we pledged to return in the evening for the final treatment.

We then returned to our hotel to pick up our tickets for the Taj Mahal and to touch base with our group. Our hands were stiff and we were afraid to move them too much and so everything we did was with one hand. Fortunately for me (as a Southpaw, along with Forrest), my strong hand was free. We walked through the streets again and saw Bob and Aleta who told us to go see Raam at the Gupta medical Shop. Because my arm was scraped by the wheel of a donkey cart earlier in the day, and I needed a bandage of some sort, we went to see Raam. We approached a small shop and saw a man sitting behind the counter. We asked him, “are you Raam?” he looked at us with surprise. He did not know how two foreign women knew his name, and, just earlier, two other Indians had approached him at random and said, “are you Raam?” For a moment, he told us, he thought he was getting famous, but he wasn’t sure how. He noticed our mehndi and mentioned that his sister teaches mendhi and invited us into their home to meet her. There we met Viruvru (forgive the spelling; Raam if you read this, please write with the correct spelling of your sister’s name), who was reading from an English-Hindi reader. We sat and talked and the fan was turned on; Raam’s mother appeared with hot chai and a cousin named Pami arrived. Pami is in tenth grade and enjoys studying biology, and so she and Lynda hit it off immediately. They talked about becoming doctors (Lynda is going to medical school in the fall) and Viruvru and I read from her school book. Our circle of friends widened when Bob arrived. Raam’s father called him out into the street, and moments later he appeared with Bob. More hot tea was delivered and we sat and talked about our lives. I told them how my husband was a goldsmith/professor and we learned that Viruvu (spelling!) not only had an MA in sociology, but that she also studied acupressure and excelled at sewing. She is also in the process of looking for a husband and we have no doubt that a woman of her talents and beauty will find a most suitable groom. In Raam’s shop is a super-fly computer (he is studying to be a software engineer) and I showed him our blog. His little sister gave each of us an image of Ganesh from her collection. We expressed our thanks and gratitude went back to our hotel for lunch.

It has already been a full and satisfying day, and Lynda and I have yet to pass through the gates of the Taj Mahal. Enjoy the photos… we are leaving for Khajuraho tomorrow by train and jeep and I can only hope that there will be Internet access.


Derek in India #2

We rose near sunrise and walked to a nearby hotel with a rooftop view of the Taj Mahal. As the sun soaked the eastern face of the domes and minarets, the city began to awake. Somewhere distant, a single voice sang, accidentally accompanied by a blacksmith's rhythmic pounding, resounding from some other quarter. Gradually, activity came alive on nearby rooftops came to life. A man fed table scraps to a trio of monkeys. Another man contemplated his hands as he sat framed by a yellow doorway. Below, boys gazed skyward, their hands darting and tugging, working their kitestrings. At first, they displayed their skill by causing the kites to spin and swirl, but suddenly, one colored kite moved under a white one higher up. The sawing began, and the white kite fell to the ground defeated.

Elsewhere, jewel-green parrots flapped and soared and comlained upon landing. Groups of pigeons cut and jutted with military precision at the command of some unseen hand.

And all the while, the perfect symmetry of the Taj Mahal stood before us, its curves and lines playing with the changing light and shadows.

Our conversation lagged at first as we gazed from the sublime to the mundane. Bit by bit, monkeys' antics called forth a comment from one of us, and slowly all the expected discussions emerged. One table explored movies and snipers and electronic equipment, another sifted through the minutia of small change in India, and yet others stand and stare in the distance, occasionally sharing muffled remarks and silence.

And now, the city has opened its eyes, stretched, yawned, and sat up. Horns chirp and blare in annoyance below us, as birds chatter and whistle above. The smell of rotting eggs that greeted us at dawn has been replaced by the scent of wood smoke and cooking bread. The sun strengthens, and the day has arrived.

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